Hell is other people, and that's okay
October 8, 2010 7:53 AM   Subscribe

My sister is turning 18. Help me build an Adolescent Crisis Prep Kit!

Basically, I want a list of classic novels, movies, and albums for varying levels of wanderlust, confusion, and disillusion with the world.

So far, I've thought of/had suggested to me:

Books: On the Road, Siddhartha, Catcher in the Rye, No Exit, Italo Calvino, Vonnegut, Borges, Kafka

Movies: Breakfast Club, Fight Club, Grave of the Fireflies

Albums: No idea. She really likes Green Day and My Chemical Romance, so something rock-ish, but I'd like to steer her away from dudes who wear eyeliner (he says as he listens to STP.) Ted Leo might work, but that might be my personal taste bubbling to the surface.

Others: A pipe, dinner date with her big brother, a journal, an inexplicable amount of junk food

Tell me what books got you through the years of 18-22, what you wish you had read or watched during that time, and other things that helped you discover yourself and your relationship with the world. If you can spare the time, tell me why each work is important or what you gleaned from it.

I floated through a rudderless college career in which I put forth very little effort and followed the whims & anxieties of my parents' upper middle class ethos. I've been a much more thoughtful person lately, and I want my sister to get a leg up on finding herself, her true calling, and some way to live with purpose.
posted by Turkey Glue to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I asked a similar question a few months ago, for a 17 year old boy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:08 AM on October 8, 2010

What's she going to be doing post-graduation (I assume she'll be graduating high school soon)? Is there anything she really loves? I know this sounds ridiculous and dorky, but I would have absolutely loved if someone had given me a few foundational history texts with non-mainstream bents (think Zinn's People's History and other books like it) around that point in my life. Or if someone had given me a bunch of Peter Berger's sociology texts. Anyways, you get the picture. Also, Crime and Punishment.

Oh, if you can get your hands on a copy of Michael Ende's Momo (I think it was also published in English as The Grey Gentlemen), that would be AMAZING. It's a German children's novel that causes you to think critically about where you're setting your priorities in life and certain aspects of our society. It wasn't very popular in the US and has been out of print for about 25 years, but used copies are sometimes to be found online for reasonable prices. If she happens to read German, this would make things way easier.

Also, a nice-but-not-too-nice-to-use-regularly fountain pen would also be an excellent addition.
posted by naturalog at 8:14 AM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

RENT. She needs the Original Cast Recording of RENT. Not the highlights CD, not the movie soundtrack, and DEFINITELY not the movie itself.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:14 AM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your sister's mileage may vary, but Jeanette Winterson and Margaret Atwood (ALL of her stuff, not just the dystopias!) were brain exploders/sanity preservers for me at that age, circa 1998-2002.
posted by clavicle at 8:14 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wish I could have read The Gift Of Fear when I was 18, to learn about listening to inner warning signals and trusting my instincts. I think it would have been empowering to learn about when fear or caution are appropriate and when to be fearless.
posted by antiquated at 8:17 AM on October 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Albums by the Pixies, Sonic Youth, and Elliott Smith got me through most of those years. I'd recommend Doolittle, Surfer Rosa, Daydream Nation, Elliott Smith and Either/Or.
posted by ripley_ at 8:24 AM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Summer of '42 (book and movie)

Peter Camenzind
posted by jgirl at 8:24 AM on October 8, 2010

Response by poster: Further background: She'll be going to college next year and is currently leaning toward biomedical engineering. Our parents pushed us both to major in something practical, so I'm looking to expand her mind beyond nuts & bolts "What will make me the most money?" thinking.

She's nerdy, so she likes wacky internetty humor, video games (it seems like she's playing Shadow of the Colossus half the time), she likes science & history, and has a liberal, cynical view of the world. I'm keeping it open-ended because I honestly don't know her specific interests all that well.
posted by Turkey Glue at 8:25 AM on October 8, 2010

A Room with a View. The book has a lot more philosophizing about what we want vs. what we are told we want out of life, but the movie is great, too.
posted by aspiring polymath at 8:29 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

If You're Feeling Sinister by Belle and Sebastian was my go-to album for existential crises in high school. Something about British voices is deeply soothing to my American ears, and it'll help with the eyeliner thing.

As far as books for young ladies go, I highly recommend Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. It helped me be okay with myself at 21 in a way I hadn't been able to come even close to up until that point.
posted by libertypie at 8:31 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I could go back and influence my 18 year old self on two things, it would be:

Don't smoke. I'd create a neat diagram showing what a 10 or 20 a day habit costs, and how long it takes to spend the value or a car, a holiday in the Caribbean etc

Don't drink crap. I would have liked my older sibling to induct me in the ways of less, but better quality alcohol. Like having Noel Coward as a drinking mentor.

On preview: a pipe? Does she have a beard or does she can she just not wait to study cancer close up?
posted by MuffinMan at 8:32 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

These are a good start, but as a former 18 year-old girl, I'd suggest rounding out that list with lots of material about women. For instance, I hated Catcher in the Rye because every adult around me touted it for capturing some quintessential adolescent experience, but Holden's mistrust of women struck me as alienating. Also, she's probably already read it.

Fight Club, in my opinion, is a really stupid and demeaning movie about impotence and masculinity, which is problematic for all sorts of reasons, and especially not that illuminating for a teenage girl.

Books: Ada or Ardor, White Teeth, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? and other Lorrie Moore books, My Antonia, People's History of the United States, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.

Movies: Heathers, Mean Girls (she's probably seen it), Virgin Suicides, Happy Go Lucky, Ghost World, Secretary, Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard, and lots of the movies recommended in this question I asked recently.

TV: United States of Tara
posted by zoomorphic at 8:33 AM on October 8, 2010 [9 favorites]

Books; some Calvino is definitely great! I would recommend Franny and Zooey, The Fall by Albert Camus, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Try and see if you can get her a copy of the video game Psychonauts. I have a feeling she might enjoy it.

And on a purely practical level I would suggest giving her some sort of literature on other fields/careers she might be interested in. You say she is leaning towards biomedical engineering but maybe she has some interest in being a computer programmer, or a history professor, or who knows!
posted by Funky Claude at 8:41 AM on October 8, 2010

I floated through a rudderless college career in which I put forth very little effort and followed the whims & anxieties of my parents' upper middle class ethos

Possibly too guy-centric, but to me The Graduate captured that college-aged rudderless feeling better than anything else.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:43 AM on October 8, 2010

Best answer: More authors: David Foster Wallace's non-fiction, Susan Orlean's non-fiction, Lydia Davis, Banana Yoshimoto, Toni Morrison (start with Bluest Eye, Sula or A Mercy), Jane Smiley.

More music: Metric/Emily Haines, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, All Right, This Time Just the Girls. Less rock-ish, but still awesome are Kate Bush, Rilo Kiley, Alela Diane, Neko Case.

I'll stop hijacking the thread, but I feel REALLY STRONGLY about giving young women material by and about other women. She's just emerging out of the high school canon where literature and history is pretty male-dominated, and it's important that she at least knows about all the books and music and movies out there about what it's like to be a girl.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:44 AM on October 8, 2010 [7 favorites]

A little Bill Hicks couldn't hurt.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 8:47 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Steppenwolf and other Herman Hesse novels. They lose much of their impact after 25 or so. A little male dominated though.
posted by slide at 8:51 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kind of a dorky suggestion, but if she's going into a nerdy major... does she own any tools? if not, get her a good pocket-appropriate knife or multitool, preferably one including a bottle opener and corkscrew. it's the sort of thing that can live in your pocket (or backpack) and be helpful for years.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:00 AM on October 8, 2010

I want to voice support for your choice of Fight Club. Though occasionally dismissed as 'macho porn' (by Ebert), it provides a fascinating look at a (misguided?) search for authentic experiences and escape from the status quo. Sure, it looks at it from a male perspective, but I don't think anyone would advocate hiding one sex's perspectives from the other.
posted by Tehhund at 9:08 AM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

A Map For Saturday is a documentary about a guy travelling the world over the span of a year. The older one gets the harder it is to do something like this, so the sooner she gets it in her head, the better, I say.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:11 AM on October 8, 2010

If she is nerdy and likes science, I'd suggest The Language Instinct by Stephen Pinker. It's a really great linguistics book for noobs that doesn't treat you like an idiot and argues that language is an instinct for humans the same way walking on two legs is an instinct. You also get a "great sibling" award.
posted by shortyJBot at 9:13 AM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Perhaps try to inspire her outwardly rather than inwardly. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, and Mountains Beyond Mountains, the Paul Farmer story. Both would appeal to a medicine-oriented nerd, yet instill a sense of humanity and decency. Also Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

Also for all those older classics, I'd suggest buying them used, so they retain some soul.
posted by acidic at 9:37 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

zoomorphic's answers are going EXACTLY the route I intended with mine, and remind me of something else. I wish I'd had the Sleater-Kinney albums Dig Me Out and Call the Doctor at her age (or before!), and I think there's a nonzero chance your sister would like them.
posted by clavicle at 9:40 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 were indispensable to me when I was that age. Good for indulging a nerd's sense of humor :)
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:45 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Books/Magazines: A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf. A subscription to Bitch (this and Bust were important to my feminist awakening when I was in the 18-22 age range - reading Bitch made me a much more critical consumer of mass media).

(I also detested Catcher in the Rye, but my currently-19-years-old sister really enjoyed it.)

Movies/TV: Buffy (there is a Slayer in all of us! Girl power!), Doctor Who (scifi that is just plain awesome), Flight of the Conchords (because sometimes a good laugh at the absurdity of life is better than anything else).

Random other: Gift certificate for a reputable tattoo/piercing parlour (says the lady with 12? piercings, most of which were accumulated between the ages of 19 and 28).
posted by purlgurly at 9:53 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh! And Monty Python! I particularly adored the movies and tv show in my late teens and early 20s.
posted by purlgurly at 9:55 AM on October 8, 2010

Everyone should read Juanita Harrison's My Great Wide Beautiful World, and the sooner, the better.

Harrison was an African-American maid in Mississippi in the 1920s. She took off and explored 22 countries, supporting herself with a series of domestic jobs. It's an amazing story.
posted by cyndigo at 10:05 AM on October 8, 2010

A subscription to Bitch, a subscription to the New Yorker, a dose of Plan B, a gift card to Sephora, Freaks and Geeks, Le Tigre record, record player, Black Hole, Ghost World (the movie or the comic), A People's History of the US, a Holga camera with some film, Cunt, the Beauty Myth, a multi-tool, and a slingshot planner.

All of these items are universally adored by many 18 year old women! You will be the coolest older brother ever.
posted by 200burritos at 10:46 AM on October 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

Oh, I veto Fight Club---but you SHOULD get her the whole Studio Ghibli box set. She will love it. I also agree with 'No Exit, Italo Calvino, Vonnegut, Borges, Kafka', but not the rest.
posted by 200burritos at 10:49 AM on October 8, 2010

Totally get her a tool kit (NOT A PINK ONE OR ANYTHING MARKETED TOWARD LADIES) and a DIY book so she can hang up her own pictures, replace doorknobs, and other sorts of things she'll need to know how to do someday. And if she drives - teach her how to change a tire!
posted by elsietheeel at 10:49 AM on October 8, 2010

The Violent Femmes. They bring all their equipment on the bus. That is all.
posted by eatdonuts at 10:55 AM on October 8, 2010

I'll recommend The New Pornographers (particularly Challengers) an nth time. Tom Stoppard's Arcadia is fantastic - very witty and wordy, switches between eras in time, strong chaotic math themes. It's a pretty easy read so it won't feel like you're giving her school work, but it's also a serious play with serious themes so it will be a grownup gift. If she's read/is reading Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead is also great.

You might also consider a basic cookbook - Best Recipes (from the Cook's Illustrated folks) and How To Cook Everything (Mark Bittman of NYT) both do a great job of explaining what all the ingredients in a recipe do. They are both great references to have and I think of cooking for yourself as an adventure of sorts - but maybe those are better college graduation/first apartment gifts?

Heads up: Grave of The Fireflies is beautiful, but terribly depressing. And I'm not sure it particularly strikes me as a coming-of-age, leaving-home, adventuresome movie...

Some much less depressing anime - consider Hetalia (which is even very-well dubbed). It's about WWII, sort of, with all the countries personified with all their stereotypes... It's bizarre and wonderful and worldly and full of fun history facts. A smart, nerdy young lady should love it (assuming she doesn't think all anime is porn...but a smart, nerdy young lady wouldn't. ^_^).

PS: On preview - depending on your budget, 200burritos is dead on - a Diana or something would make her so cool.
posted by maryr at 11:01 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

PJ Harvey, Dry and Rid of Me.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:16 AM on October 8, 2010

Possibly too guy-centric, but to me The Graduate captured that college-aged rudderless feeling better than anything else.

This feeling is captured from a female perspective particularly well in Reality Bites.
posted by almostmanda at 11:33 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady. Got this one at my bridal shower, but would have been wonderful when I was this age.

And, Transitions. Going to college, especially away from home, is a huge transition and while it's a great one, it's also tough.
posted by Leezie at 11:43 AM on October 8, 2010

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron -- the best book ever for breakups or job losses. This is perhaps the single most useful book I've read in my life.
posted by salvia at 1:06 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all great answers, and I have a TON of options for her birthday (and Christmas for that matter.) I marked zoomorphic's answer as best because it's easy to forget that women needs books by women for women, and so much of our culture is male-centric, so I'll be sure to pick up something from that list.

Thanks for the help! (More answers are always appreciated though.)
posted by Turkey Glue at 1:16 PM on October 8, 2010

Ursula LeGuinn. I'd especially recommend the criminally underrated Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, but also The Dispossessed which is an acknowledged classic. Both are about growing up and, as you put it, finding a way to live with purpose.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:47 PM on October 8, 2010

nthing Zoomorphic.

I spent most of my time hanging out with biomedical engineering kids in undergrad. I'd have been much cooler (well, as far as they were concerned) if I came into school with a working knowledge of Firefly and Buffy.

I don't know if this is something that would appeal to her, but I knew I wanted to travel to East Africa at some point in time. When I graduated, my folks gave me the Rough Guide to Kenya, which kept me going with tantalizing life possibilities during the daily grind that is undergraduate education. Set her up with a sweet country to travel to, or at least fantasize about visiting - India, Argentina, Italy, Fiji, Mali ...
posted by ChuraChura at 2:03 PM on October 8, 2010

Can't believe no one's mentioned Six Feet Under yet. She'll identify with Claire when she watches it now, and then with everyone else when she gets a little older.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:37 PM on October 8, 2010

On preview: a pipe? Does she have a beard or does she can she just not wait to study cancer close up?

I don't think the OP means a tobacco pipe.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:42 PM on October 8, 2010

The best present I got from my older sibling at 18 was a trip to another country. Up until that point, going anywhere outside the US had seemed mystifyingly complicated, and I certainly never imagined I could do it long term or even live abroad! My sister literally opened the world up to me. You might not be able to take her abroad, but Rolf Potts Vagabonding does similar things: shows just how easy it is to travel, gives practical advice for planning your first trip, points you in the right direction for more advice.

Show her that the world is her oyster.
posted by mosessis at 2:54 PM on October 8, 2010

I bet your sister might really like 24 Hour Revenge Therapy by Jawbreaker.

Quite possible she'd like Jawbreaker, but Unfun and Bivouac are much better albums! Especially Unfun.
posted by salvia at 3:46 PM on October 8, 2010

For Green Day-related music, I'm liking The Leftovers these days.
posted by rhizome at 7:51 PM on October 8, 2010

Response by poster: For what it's worth, I bought her the following:

"Labyrinths" by Borges
A collection of Kafka short stories (Metamorphosis included)
"A Room with a View" by Forster
"Handmaid's Tale" by Atwood
"Catcher in the Rye" by Salinger
Fight Club (movie)
Complete collection of Freaks & Geeks
The Pixies, "Doolittle"

Thanks for the help!
posted by Turkey Glue at 10:42 AM on October 12, 2010

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